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Opening The Cage

by Charlie Plaine, Director of First Edition

7th June 2019

Dikironium Cloud Creature

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!"

The Continuing Committee is happy to announce The Cage, a new virtual expansion for First Edition. Containing sixty-three (63) new cards and largely focused on the Original Series Federation, The Cage will be releasing two weeks from today, on Friday, June 21st. For the next two weeks, you'll be treated to several cards each day on this website, plus more on our various social media channels. But before we jump into spoilers, I'd like to take a few moments to introduce all of the volunteers that have worked on The Cage.

Meet the Team
First of all, I need to thank all of the volunteers that aren't designers who've worked incredibly hard to bring you The Cage. Over the past two years, we've had dozens of play testers, rules experts, creative-minded folk, artists, and proofreaders working on these cards to make them the best they can be. While the design team gets much of the credit, their work doesn't mean anything without the people that bring it to life. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for all that you've done and that you'll continue to do.

With that said, let me introduce you to the four (4) designers that poured their hearts into this expansion, from the first of many meetings to the last:

James Monsebroten [Orbin], Lead Designer
Designer Profile: James Monsebroten
A little more than five (5) years ago, James emerged as the victor of Make it So, a "reality style" design compeititon. As part of his victory, James Monebroten got to join up with the design team and work on future First Edition cards. James was something special, and I've had the privilege to work with him on Crossover, then Live Long and Prosper, and now The Cage. I've seen him grow into a confident and skilled designer, who earned the leadership of this team. And don't worry, he isn't done yet; he's already hard at work on Project Londo, which you'll see next year.

Miramanee

Jason Drake [Wambundu], Assistant Designer
Designer Profile: Jason Drake
The Cage is Jason's fifth design outing, and his brilliance and skill is on full display here. Jason has won world championships, and has as good an understanding of the pulse of and skill required by the game as anyone. His work here ensured there will be meaningful choices for players once these cards are available, and there isn't much more I can say in higher praise. You'll next see Jason leading his own team on a future project, and he's more than earned it.

James Heaney [BCSWowbagger], Assistant Designer
Designer Profile: James Heaney
Speaking of Make it So, James Heaney was also a participant in our most recent version of the program. He's one of several talented folk that have joined design after participating in Make it So. This is James' second expansion after Cold Front, and my first time working with him. He's a passionate and dedicated volunteer, rules expert, and prolific post author. Often, arguing with James (or reading his arguments with Jason) were some of the best moments of my time on this expansion; I hope James feels the same way.

Charlie Plaine [MidnightLich], Design Advisor
Designer Profile: Charlie Plaine
My primary role on The Cage was to be an advisor to James M., as it was his first time leading an expansion. He did most of the heavy lifting in terms of managing the project, which left me free to do more design work than I've done in ages. I had a lot of fun working with James, James, and Jason on The Cage, and I hope you can see that in the final product.

A Different Starting Place
Way back in 2017, when we started planning out what would appear in the Original Series block, I had an idea. We'd made four blocks in a row following roughly the same pattern: a big expansion with some affiliations in it, a small expansion with another, and a third expansion with another affiliation. Looking for a way to address concerns that we weren't delivering enough "non-block" content, I pitched the idea of challenging the way we designed a block. "What if instead of focusing on affiliations as the primary thing, we looked at something else?"

Examine Protected Culture

At the same time, we were looking for ways to address the complexity problem of block. TNG block had been nice a simple, but then we added in quadrants in the DS9 block, and time locations in the [22] block, and things had gotten a lot harder to process. Could we find a way to go back to what TNG was trying to do as we made the [OS] block? My idea was to find a way to do for seed deck design what Continuing Mission and the [WC] cards had done for draw deck design - give players a big signpost card that could help you get started.

These two ideas combined and intertwined into something we called "tropes." If you aren't familiar with the term, a "trope" is a common - and potentially overused - trick in writing, story telling, or television. For example, a common trope in horror movies is "Final Girl" - a woman that survives until the end of a horror movie. Comic book and superhero characters often have Alliterative Names (especially in the DC world); after all, Clark Kent dated Lois Lane and Lana Lang, and regularly combats Lex Luther. Our idea was to try and make some "trope" decks as the keystones to our block; instead of making an expansion that was "Federation and Klingon," what if we made one that was "What Is This Thing You Call 'Love'" and "Monster of the Week"? What if instead of just doing Romulans, an expansion let you play around with a Planet of Hats deck?"

Star Trek was lousy with tropes, and building up mechanics around them let us hit both of our goals: giving players help in making their seed decks, and giving players cards that they could use with any affiliation. The intention was to allow a player to pair their favorite strategy - perhaps hunting monsters - with almost any affiliation, be in Klingon, Hirogen, or Dominion. It's a tough concept to wrap ones head around, but all of the design team leads were intrigued enough to give it a try.

It failed. It turns out to be really hard to provide the kind of seed deck guidance that cards like Finest Crew in the Fleet or I Miss This Office give. Playtesters found that telegraphic ones strategy too early seriously weakened it, or they chaffed under the restrictions provided by the original versions of the tropes. For example: we originally pitched a trope that rewarded using lower point missions (and going for a four mission win). It had other problems, but ultimately didn't make the cut because doing three missions is always easier than doing four.

Other ideas we experimented with included acquiring artifacts, seeding personnel, altering the timeline, and teaching aliens how to love. Some never made it out of testing, and others tested poorly and wouldn't end up in the finished file. We had to go back to the drawing board, and realized with tester feedback that we'd made things too complicated. We refocused, and ended up with two "trope" cards that made it to print in The Cage.

Let Me Help

Let Me Help
But even though a lot of the first versions of these cards didn't work out, we kept working on the ones that showed potential. Let Me Help is the finished version of one of these cards, inspired by the "What Is This Thing You Call 'Love'" trope mentioned above. And in spite of all the troubles we had meeting our goals, this is a helpful deck construction card: if you're using at least eighteen (18) dilemmas, your gender-related dilemmas get a boost. And you even get to avoid your worst matchup with Let Me Help, as Borg have to deal with them instead of ignore them.

How does Let Me Help give you guidance when building your deck? Firstly, it limits the number of seed cards you can use on other things; having to seed at least 18 cards under opponent's missions means you only have to fill at most 12 other seed slots. It also helps you pick your dilemmas - find anything that has "male" or "female" in the game text, preferably also with some numbers, and use those. It's guidance, but isn't strict (aside from the number of under mission seed restriction), so it should be versatile for players that still want to make decisions. And note that not all your dilemmas need to be gender-related, so you can still use some old favorites.

The other surviving trope card is monster hunting, and you'll see bits and pieces of it over the next two weeks. The finished objective will be spoiled on release day, which is Friday, June 21st. Oh, and by the way, the word "trope" is just a nickname for these types of cards, and not anything you'll see in game. The plan is for 1-2 more of these types of cards to appear in the subsequent block expansions.

Nativity
Of course, even though some of the trope cards themselves didn't work out, that doesn't mean we didn't use some of the ideas elsewhere. The first is a new lore reference on missions, "23rd century." We tried a few different ways of marking these cards, but the easiest and least intrusive way to do so was with text in the lore. Examine Protected Culture is one of the first missions of this type we made, the planet Amerind from "The Paradise Syndrome." Originally, we'd had an entire trope card around finding, helping, and/or rescuing "natives" of these missions - like Miramanee. That didn't survive, but turned into the card Preserver Obelisk which gives you access to and benefits from using natives - [OS] personnel that name a mission in their lore.

Preserver Obelisk

The "23rd century" lore hook also helped us solve a long-standing problem with how missions are treated in First Edition. With very few exceptions, missions are always framed from the 24th century (TNG-DS9-Voyager era) point of view. It's a bigger problem for 22nd century missions, but there were definitely some stories we wanted to reference from the original series. With the mechanical need to put "23rd century" in lore, we gave creative an easy way to frame the missions in the modern era and still reference the events of Kirk and company.

You'll also find a few natives that are tied to affiliations, as well - they aren't all non-aligned. Lt. Commander Giotto, from "Devil in the Dark", names Janus VI in his lore. This planet also appears here in the form of Review Mining Operation. As these cards show, we have the ability to make native [OS] personnel in any affiliation - and you'll see more of these as the block continues.

Keep it Simple
The other major aspect of our design was simplicity. We were all aware of the realities of how complex our blocks had become, and the need to not only prevent that from continuing, but begin to reverse it. Early on, we made the decision to try and find a way for [OS] decks to play without requiring the use of Time Locations. The goal was to leave Sherman's Peak as an option for constructed play, but keep it out of block. The Final Frontier is the finished result of our efforts, and it's a good enough card that we think it will see play in constructed as well.

The first thing you'll note is that this card seeds on an outpost or facility on the spaceline; this gives you the option to play any of the [OS] flavors out of an outpost. Secondly, this card gives you a first turn download of an appropriate ship. "Free" ships are very good, but this card doesn't let you play ships for free, whereas the time location does - a fair trade. Next, you'll see that using TFF gives you two free plays a turn. At first, you might think this is escalation - but if you keep reading, you'll see there are significant costs to those two plays.

In exchange for two free plays, you only get to play matching (and [NA] ) personnel. If you want to play with Organian Peace Treaty (or another treaty), you'll only be able to report some of your personnel at TFF's outpost. Additionally, you can only report [OS] personnel for free, even if you have another card that tells you otherwise. And to really make you "pay" for the two free plays, you can't play [i]anyone[/i] to a time location. All in all, The Final Frontier gives you a downloaded ship and two free plays a turn, but goes a long way to disabling stacking. But, this all lets you play your favorite flavor of [OS] without having to deal with time travel, which is a pretty nice boon.

Lt. Commander Giotto

All in all, our goal with all the cards in The Cage was to reduce the comprehension complexity without sacrificing strategic complexity. We didn't want our cards to be difficult to understand how they worked, but not so much that there wasn't skill required in figuring out how best to use them. Once all is said and done, and the expansion is out and you've had time to play it, we hope you'll let us know how we did.

The Doors Are Open, Go Forth and Enjoy
The Cage is jam-packed with fun and exciting cards, and you're going to see at least three (3) of them each day between today and Friday, June 21st. We'll have articles during these two weeks of spoilers that give you more information and deck ideas, and our design team will be posting deck lists with all the details about how the new cards were intended to be used. Of course, you guys are smarter than we are and will no doubt find new ways to use what you'll find.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more spoilers ahead of the expansion's release, as well as getting them from the Section 31 podcast and The Dojo's Discord channel. And don't forget to visit the Gameplay (1E) forum where the design team will be answering questions as you have them. All of this will be building up to the official release of The Cage on Friday, June 21st. That's the same weekend as both European and North American Continentals, so the new cards won't be legal there. However, fear not, as they'll be legal one week later on Friday, June 28th.

We hope you enjoy The Cage and the start of the Original Series block. Our entire department has worked very hard to bring this file to you, and we can't wait to show it off. Live long and prosper, and check back daily for more spoilers from The Cage!


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